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Four people, including three children, die after being pulled from early morning house fire in Chesterfield

Four people, including three children, died after firefighters pulled them from a burning two-story home in northern Chesterfield County early Friday. Three other occupants are in critical condition.

The fire’s cause and the causes of death for the victims remain under investigation.

County fire crews were called at 12:11 a.m. to the single-family home in the 9900 block of Glass Road, which is in the Mayfair Estates subdivision off Courthouse and Hull Street roads.

The first crews to arrive at 12:17 a.m. encountered “heavy fire on the first floor in front of the residence” with heavy smoke throughout the first and second floors, Chesterfield Fire Chief Edward “Loy” Senter Jr. said at news conference Friday morning at the county’s public safety building.

Firefighters immediately began searching the first floor for occupants and were assisted by additional arriving fire crews, Senter said.

He said a fire official who arrived at 12:19 was advised by a person at the scene that there could be as many as six people trapped inside the home. That official then immediately requested a second and third alarm, along with five additional ambulances.

Senter said one victim was found dead in a room where the fire is believed to have started and several others were located on the first floor and removed by firefighters. “Multiple other victims were located on the second floor and were removed by firefighters using ladders in the rear of the residence,” he said.

Senter said all eight people removed from the home received advanced life support care and were transported to various local hospitals. Three of those transported died at hospitals. The condition of the eighth person was unclear Friday. The blaze was declared under control at 1:53 a.m.

The fire’s cause is being investigated by the fire marshal’s office in conjunction with Chesterfield police, Senter said.

“Investigators are working to establish the relationships, ages and next of kin of the victims,” the chief said. “We believe we’re dealing with a blended family.”

“For whatever reason, [the victims] were not able to get out or did not have enough advance warning to get out,” Senter said. “All of that will be determined as part of the investigation.”

In response to a question, Deputy Fire Marshal Joe Harvey said the fire started in a bedroom, where firefighters discovered one of the victims.

Senter said a great deal of work lies ahead as investigators examine and process the scene over the weekend.

“Our investigators will be interviewing a lot of witnesses and some of the victims who can handle the interviews at this time,” he said. “This is an active, ongoing investigation so we’re limited as to what we can say ... and there’s still a lot of information that we do not yet know.”

Senter commended the “courageous efforts” of public safety personnel “who were faced with insurmountable odds this morning when they arrived at a very complex and dangerous incident.”

“Without hesitation, they put their training and preparation to work, went into harm’s way and worked as a cohesive team to fight the fire, rescue entrapped occupants and provide the best possible care to those who were injured.”

Terry Pierce, who lives in the neighborhood about a block from the fire, said she was awake early this morning when she heard “a lot of sirens going off” around 12:10 a.m. “It was one after another, and I got up and I saw multiple fire trucks coming down the street.”

“So I stayed awake for hours because there was a lot of noise,” Pierce said. “And then eventually I fell off to sleep and woke up at 4:30 this morning and watched the news, and learned that it was in our neighborhood.”

Pierce said she’s concerned that two of the victims might be elementary school children that she frequently saw in the neighborhood.

“There were children who went to school with my granddaughter and they would always run up the street to meet the bus or run home every afternoon when they got off the bus,” she said. “I pray that it was not them [who were killed], but I also pray for whomever it was in that fire.”

Late Friday afternoon, Chesterfield Public Schools sent a message to families whose children attend Jacobs Road Elementary, Manchester Middle and Clover Hill High about the fatal fire that occurred within those schools’ attendance zones.

“We respect the privacy of the family, and share our thoughts and prayers with those affected,” said the message, signed by the principals of each of the three schools.

“We also respect the need of the fire and police departments to conduct a thorough investigation and notify next of kin. Please know that we will be ready to support students’ needs on Monday as appropriate, and will share any information that we can over the weekend to prepare for Monday’s return. Take care. Hug your children. Have a good weekend.”

The note did not confirm that any of the three children who died attended the schools.

If the state medical examiner determines that Friday’s victims died as a result of the fire, the blaze would be one of the deadliest on record in Chesterfield.

In January 2016, a fire sparked by a discarded cigarette killed five members of a family at a home at 3401 Wicklow Lane in Chesterfield’s Bexley subdivision. At the time, Chesterfield fire officials called the blaze the worst single loss of human life on record, based on reports kept by the department dating to the late 1960s.

About a month later, a member of the Chesterfield Historical Society of Virginia came forward with information about a May 1964 fire that took the lives of six children in then-rural Midlothian in a blaze that officials at the time believed was started by a portable electric heater.

County and state fire records of the 1964 fire no longer exist.

Before the 2016 fire, the worst recorded loss of life in a Chesterfield fire occurred in October 1984, when four teenage friends died at a home on Clintwood Road in the Lake Genito subdivision.


Local
breaking
As Va. passes 5 million total vaccines given, Northam says every resident who wants a dose could get one by end of May

As Virginia grapples with the temporary loss of Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a critical juncture in the pandemic where cases and hospitalizations are rising once again, state leaders said Friday that every resident who wants a vaccine could still receive their first dose by the end of May.

The reassurance comes in the days before Virginia makes every person 16 and up eligible for a vaccine, essentially widening who can make a vaccination appointment by millions of people.

“Over the past few months, we have made tremendous progress vaccinating Virginians as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible, and we need to keep up the good work,” said Gov. Ralph Northam in a statement. “The more people who get vaccinated, the faster we can end this pandemic and get back to our normal lives.”

Starting Sunday, residents will be able to directly schedule appointments through the Vaccinate Virginia database. Individuals in Phase 1 who have yet to receive a sign-up link will be prioritized.

On Friday, the state reported that more than 5 million total vaccines have been administered and nearly 1 out of every 4 residents is fully vaccinated — a figure 5.7 times the same count two months ago.

Virginia is administering an average of 77,755 shots each day or about 544,285 per week. At this rate, it would take about three months to reach herd immunity with 75% of the population fully vaccinated.

Though the state has a capacity to reach at least 110,647 daily vaccinations and quicken the pace, demand is lowering in areas outside of Richmond, the Blue Ridge and Northern Virginia’s health districts.

The Virginia Department of Health is experiencing challenges in breaking down vaccine skepticism in remote areas and among conservatives, a complication playing out across the U.S.

Without buy-in from those most reluctant, Virginia could hit a wall in May and June when supply is expected to no longer be tight, said Dr. Danny Avula, the state’s vaccine coordinator.

Concerns this could set back efforts to safely reopen is coupled with worries of Virginians relaxing behaviors too soon while the highly transmissible U.K. variant becomes the dominant strain.

A Friday update from the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute, which tracks COVID-19 trends, projected a summer peak by the Fourth of July weekend if precautions such as social distancing and wearing masks aren’t taken.

Another barrier to vaccinating as many Virginians as possible is accessibility.

VDH and its local health districts have worked to improve equitable distribution through community partnerships, drive-thru and mobile clinics, launching state-run vaccination centers in high-risk neighborhoods and increasing its translation services online and through the state call center.

Another tool that could help is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s VaccineFinder site, which maps pharmacies and hospitals that have available appointments.

Soon, it’ll include community vaccination centers and local health departments.

But Black and Latino populations are still being vaccinated at lower rates, and their percentage of vaccinations does not match their percentage of cases and hospitalizations.

Information on VaccineFinder is available only in English, and while the site shows availability for nearby locations, signing up for an appointment requires navigating multiple windows and options are not necessarily in real time, which could cause confusion.

At 3 p.m. Friday, the last update was nine hours ago.

Not all pharmacies listed offer translations for the forms that need filling out while others require a phone call for registration. Some ask individuals for Social Security, insurance or driver’s license numbers but state the details could be skipped.

In Virginia and nationwide, vaccines are free regardless of insurance or immigration status. Other options for registering for a shot include calling (877) 829-4682 — a state service with assistance available in more than 100 languages including American Sign Language — and vaccinate.virginia.gov.


Z-no-digital
AP
Liberty sues Jerry Falwell Jr., seeking millions in damages

Liberty University has filed a civil lawsuit against its former leader, Jerry Falwell Jr., seeking tens of millions in damages after the two parted ways acrimoniously last year.

The complaint, filed Thursday in Lynchburg Circuit Court, alleges Falwell crafted a “well-resourced exit strategy” from his role as president and chancellor in the form of a lucrative 2019 employment agreement while withholding damaging information from the evangelical school about a personal scandal that would explode into public view the following year.

“Despite his clear duties as an executive and officer at Liberty, Falwell Jr. chose personal protection,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also alleges that Falwell failed to disclose and address “the issue of his personal impairment by alcohol” and has refused to fully return confidential information and other personal property belonging to Liberty.

In a statement, Falwell said the lawsuit was full of “lies and half-truths” and called it an attempt to defame him and discredit his record.

“I assure you that I will defend myself against it with conviction,” he said.

Falwell’s departure from Liberty last August came soon after Giancarlo Granda, a younger business partner of the Falwell family, said that he had been in a years-long sexual relationship with Falwell’s wife, Becki Falwell, and that Jerry Falwell participated in some of the liaisons as a voyeur.

Although the Falwells acknowledged that Granda and Becki Falwell had an affair, Jerry Falwell denied any participation. The couple alleged that Granda sought to extort them by threatening to reveal the relationship.

The lawsuit says that Falwell had a “fiduciary duty to disclose Granda’s extortive actions, and to disclose the potential for serious harm to Liberty.”

Instead, Falwell “furthered the conspiracy of silence and negotiated a 2019 Employment Agreement that contained a higher salary from Liberty,” the suit says.

The lawsuit argues that Falwell’s and Granda’s actions have injured Liberty’s enrollment, hurt fundraising, disrupted faculty, resulted in the 2019 agreement that proved “detrimental to Liberty’s interests,” and damaged the school’s reputation. Granda is not named as a defendant in the suit.

Liberty spokesperson Scott Lamb said the university’s “only word on the subject is the lawsuit itself.”

Before the Granda scandal exploded, Falwell had already been on leave after posting a photo on social media that sparked an uproar. It showed Falwell on a yacht with a drink in his hand and his arm around a young woman who was not his wife, their pants unzipped and his underwear exposed.

The complaint, written with a flourish, offers new details reflecting the university’s perspective on its rift with Falwell.

“The time for Falwell Jr. to cash in on Liberty’s prodigious success had arrived,” the suit says of the contract negotiations. The lengthy treatise includes subsections with titles such as “Falwell’s Auspicious Acts of August of 2020” and “Falwell Jr.’s Hard Fall,” referencing a tumble down the stairs that prompted a 911 call.

According to the lawsuit, after Falwell gave a radio interview about the yacht photo in which he offered a “slurred” explanation, Becki Falwell “stepped in.”

The lawsuit says Becki Falwell contacted three members of the executive committee of Liberty’s board to alert them to what “she described as her husband’s excessive use of alcohol.”

“Becki’s heartfelt appeal made an impact on Liberty’s leaders and helped provide a context for understanding Falwell’s questionable public comments, worrying behavior, and inappropriate social media posts,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also alleges that there were concerns at Liberty that Falwell “smelled of alcohol during work interactions.”

It was agreed that Falwell would go on leave and Liberty would pay for his “rehab,” but a dispute later emerged between Falwell and school leaders over the type of treatment, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges three counts: breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and statutory conspiracy.

On the second count, the lawsuit says it seeks damages in excess of $10 million. On the conspiracy charge, it seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and argues that sum should be tripled, as allowed by state law under limited circumstances, plus $350,000 in punitive damages. Liberty is also seeking other costs and fees.

Falwell, an attorney and real estate developer, had led Liberty since the 2007 death of his televangelist father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who also founded the Moral Majority, making evangelicals a key force in the Republican party.

In late August, shortly after Falwell’s resignation, Liberty announced that it was opening an independent investigation into Falwell’s tenure as president. The inquiry remains ongoing.

Falwell sued Liberty for defamation in October, alleging that the school had damaged his reputation, but dropped the case in December without explanation.


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Local
breaking
Public support shifting to one project in Richmond casino sweepstakes

The competition for the city’s single casino license is heating up.

With time running out for the three companies pursuing a casino resort in Richmond, project backers and residents across the city are continuing to pitch their support or opposition to the projects.

As a city evaluation panel is expected to select a preferred project next month, followed by a City Council vote in June on whether to hold a referendum on the project in November, public favor is beginning to coalesce behind one of the projects and against the other two.

In a letter sent Thursday to Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and the evaluation panel reviewing the three project proposals, Prudence Justis, president of the Ginter Park Residents Association, said 94% of respondents to a recent neighborhood survey opposed a casino at the Movieland property.

“Because so many of our residents feel strongly that the presence of a large casino-resort so close to our neighborhood would be contrary to the interest of the neighborhood, the Board of Directors has taken the further step of formally opposing this site as well,” the letter states.

In a statement responding to the association’s opposition to the project, Cordish spokeswoman Cari Furman said the project is expected to generate the most tax revenue. She also said the company, in response to public feedback, is exploring the option of maintaining a movie theater in its new development.

Meanwhile, residents from the Stratford Hills area are continuing public protests against the proposed Bally’s casino near the Chippenham and Powhite parkways, while helping promote supporters of the Urban One casino resort project in an industrial area on the property off Commerce Road currently owned by Philip Morris USA.

While Cordish and Bally’s face public resistance in the communities where they plan to build, 8th District Councilwoman Reva Trammell said her constituents are overwhelmingly supportive of the One project.

“The emails, the phone calls and texts; they’re all saying they want it. They want the jobs and to keep real estate taxes down. The main thing they’re also saying is that it’s not in a neighborhood,” she said in an interview at an event the company held Thursday.

Rodney Hall, a retired schoolteacher who lives in the district and attended Thursday’s event, said there have not been public protests or organized opposition to the One project.

“We see no problem. There are no residents out here saying they don’t want it,” he said. “We need the city support so we can make it happen.”

While Trammell said she’s still listening to constituents and has not endorsed the project, her comments are a far cry from the objections two other council members have raised about the projects proposed in their districts.

The Cordish project is in the city’s 2nd District. The Bally’s project is in the 4th District. Council members Katherine Jordan and Kristen Larson have both issued statements opposing the projects in their respective districts.

No council members have publicly said they are opposed to a casino, but three School Board members — Stephanie Rizzi, Kenya Gibson and Jonathan Young — have said they do not support a casino in the city.

Richmond initially received six casino development proposals earlier this year under a new state law allowing it and four other localities to permit them if approved by local voters in a public referendum.

Each locality — Richmond, Danville, Bristol, Portsmouth and Norfolk — is permitted to allow just one casino resort. Richmond requested the development proposals in December, about a month after voters in the other four localities overwhelmingly approved plans for casinos in their communities.

Richmond officials cut three of the proposals it received last month after the city’s evaluation panel deemed them inadequate.

At the event Urban One held Thursday, CEO Alfred Liggins announced the project will now include 250 hotel rooms instead of the 150 it initially proposed. Bally’s has proposed to build a 250-room hotel, while Cordish’s plans include 300 boutique hotel rooms.

While the One project is the least controversial thus far, it offers the least value with its $517 million plan. The Bally’s project is valued at $650 million. The Cordish plan is estimated to be worth $600 million.

Liggins said his company is aiming to add more value to its project and make its bid more competitive.

“The city didn’t ask us to do anything specific, but we heard feedback about our proposal in comparison,” he said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Thursday. “As opposed to saying, ‘We’ll build more as demand increases,’ we decided to come out and say we’ll commit to building a similar-sized hotel.”

Bally’s also sought to make its project more attractive this week, announcing Friday that it will allow all Richmond residents an opportunity to buy shares in its local project under a partnership with Richmond entrepreneur David Walton.

Residents of the Stratford Hills area, however, continued to put pressure on the company’s plans.

In a news conference Friday organized by residents from the area, two former directors from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and former James River Park System Manager Ralph White spoke out against the Bally’s project.

“It’s the wrong place for any kind of development. It’s wetlands,” White said. “I personally am not a supporter of casinos in any place, but if it’s going to happen, put them in a place where they won’t do much damage, will hopefully do some help, and, most importantly, where people support it.”

Later Friday, several residents from the Stratford Hills area met with supporters of the One project to promote it.

Anonymous flyers distributed around the city several weeks ago in opposition to the Cordish casino project on Arthur Ashe Boulevard disturbed residents. The flyer said a casino in Greater Scott’s Addition would lower the quality of life, but suggested that people should tell city officials to “build it over there.”

The flyers did not specify a location, but several local leaders and residents, including the mayor, condemned the flyer and other comments about the casino selection process as racist.

The 8th District, where Urban One’s project would be located, is almost 70% Black and 15% Hispanic, according to the most recent data shared on the Richmond government website. The same district-level data for the other two project sites indicate that they are majority-white.

Brooke Betts, who lives near the proposed Bally’s project off Forest Hill Avenue, said she feels that people should still consider whether residents in other districts are supportive of a casino in their communities.

“I think what we really need is to just listen to each other,” she said. “Just because we don’t think it’s a good thing in our neighborhood doesn’t mean that other people think the same way about another location.”

The city’s evaluation panel is expected to decide on a recommended operator and site as a single decision within the next month.

The City Council will then vote in June to decide whether to hold a public referendum to permit the project.


Govt-and-politics
breaking
McAuliffe far outpaces other Democrats in fundraising; Youngkin and Snyder wield personal wealth

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is running for a second term, raised $4.2 million in the first quarter of 2021, more than all of his Democratic rivals combined — displaying the kind of influence that makes him the candidate to beat in the Democratic primary.

In the GOP contest — where money has less impact because of the small number of convention delegates candidates have to target — former private equity CEO Glenn Youngkin and entrepreneur Pete Snyder pulled far ahead of their rivals, thanks in large part to money they lent themselves from their personal wealth, $5 million each.

That’s according to campaign finance disclosures published Friday, three weeks before the GOP convention May 8 and two months before the Democratic primary on June 8, when party-loyal voters will decide their nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

Only one other candidate for governor broke the $1 million mark: Jennifer Carroll Foy, who benefited from big-ticket contributions out of Charlottesville from megadonors Michael Bills and Sonja Smith, and Bills’ advocacy group Clean Virginia.

Among Democrats running for lieutenant governor, Del. Sam Rasoul of Roanoke reported the highest fundraising haul of the quarter at $633,000. The campaign had nearly $1 million of spending cash as of March 31, far more than any other candidate for the office.

Among GOP candidates for lieutenant governor, former Del. Tim Hugo, R-Fairfax, raised the most money in the quarter, at $198,374, and had the most cash on hand, at nearly $104,000.

In the Democratic campaign for attorney general, Del. Jay Jones of Norfolk is proving a formidable fundraiser is the race to knock off incumbent Mark Herring, who is seeking a third term. Jones raised $498,000 in the period and had just over $1 million in cash to spend on the race as of March 31. Herring raised $646,000 and finished with $1.39 million in cash on hand.

The GOP contest for attorney general isn’t drawing nearly as much money. Del. Jason Miyares of Virginia Beach led with $236,000 in contributions and had $341,000 in cash on hand.

Democrats

McAuliffe’s $4.2 million in contributions from January through April, combined with money raised last year, left him with $8.5 million in cash on hand as of March 31. McAuliffe has more money in his war chest than all of the other candidates combined.

McAuliffe’s biggest contribution, $250,000, came from the Laborers International Union of North America, or LIUNA, a union that represents construction and public sector workers. McAuliffe also received $100,000 from James Bernhard, the former CEO of the Shaw Group, a company that makes pipes for crude oil refineries and the natural gas industry.

Carroll Foy raised the most money after McAuliffe, at $1.8 million, and finished the quarter with a balance of $2.3 million. Her contributions included $500,000 from the Clean Virginia Fund run by Bills and an additional $250,000 from Smith, Bills’ wife.

Carroll Foy, who announced in December that she was resigning her House seat in order to focus on her bid for governor, has heavily criticized the state’s campaign finance laws and proposed capping large contributions.

In a statement, her campaign said the state “can’t fix our broken campaign finance system until we elect anti-corruption champions like Jennifer Carroll Foy,” and praised the work of Clean Virginia promoting environmental protections.

McClellan reported raising $635,400, less than the $672,300 her campaign spent in the first quarter. She finished the quarter with $442,000 in cash.

Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, reported raising $139,000 in his bid for governor. He finished the quarter with just under $89,000 in cash on hand.

Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax reportedly raised just under $100,000 — $75,000 of which came from in-kind contributions, or services to the campaign. He had $20,700 in cash on hand.

Recent polling shows McAuliffe holds a wide lead over the rest of the Democratic field. An April 13 poll of likely primary voters from Public Policy Polling, a Democratic pollster based in North Carolina, showed 42% plan to support McAuliffe, while support for the other candidates lingered in the single digits. Carroll Foy and McClellan were tied at 8%, with Fairfax at 7%, and Carter at 4%. The poll shows 29% of voters remain undecided.

The pollster interviewed 526 likely Democratic primary voters on April 12th and 13th. The survey’s margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

GOP race

Virginia Republicans will choose their nominee in a “disassembled convention,” which will feature voting sites in each of the 11 congressional districts. The voters are convention delegates elected by local party units.

That dynamic dilutes the power of money in the nominating process, but whoever emerges as the nominee will need a competitive war chest in a state where no Republican has won statewide office since 2009.

Youngkin and Snyder, wielding their ability to self-fund, each lent their campaigns $5 million. Each campaign spent just over $4 million in the first quarter of the year — more than any Democratic candidate spent in that time — largely on advertising.

Loans of $5.5 million aside, Youngkin, former CEO of The Carlyle Group, reported raising the most money among the Republican candidates in contributions at $2 million. His campaign has $3.3 million in cash.

Snyder, CEO of Disruptor Capital, an angel investment firm, followed closely, raising $1.6 million in contributions on top of the $5.2 million he lent himself. Snyder’s campaign has $2.6 million in cash. Snyder’s largest contribution came from Mark Kimsey, the CEO of CapFi Partners LCC, a brokerage firm.

Cox, the former House speaker and once powerful GOP fundraiser, raised $694,000 for his campaign in the first quarter. His campaign has $310,000 in cash. Unlike Youngkin and Snyder, Cox’s professional past is in the public sector, as a teacher.

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, who says her supporters call her “Trump in heels” and who is trying to attract Trump’s base, raised $113,500 during the first quarter, and has $195,973 on hand. Chase, like Cox, was barred from fundraising during the General Assembly session.

Later entrants in the GOP race reported small hauls. Former Trump Pentagon official Sergio De La Peña reported $263,400 in contributions, and has $42,800 in cash on hand. European policy expert Peter Doran reported raising $16,400. The candidate has $2,000 in the bank. Former Roanoke Sheriff Octavia Johnson reported raising $800.


Coverage inside

Brazilian variant

VDH identifies the state’s first cases of the strain. Page A5

Virginia economy

5.1% jobless rate is double what it was a year ago. Page A10

$1.7B strategy

U.S. will set up a network to counter variants. Page A12


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